Diamond Schmitt Architects

At KING Toronto, a new urban landscape comes to life with BIM

Architects use BIM technologies to achieve a vision of city living that fosters community, nature, and sustainability

Rendering of people walking on the street towards the KING Toronto development.
A street-level view of KING Toronto shows the 16-story development rising from a set of heritage red brick buildings. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

Reimagining city living to foster nature, sustainability, and community

Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA) is using BIM (Building Information Modeling) to achieve the ambitious vision for KING Toronto, a multi-use urban development designed to foster community well-being. Draped with lush gardens, the terraced design maximizes light, air, and views. DSA is helping to reimagine what city living can be—and by prioritizing sustainability from the start, they’re optimizing design decisions to deliver a result that’s good for the planet, for people, and for business.

A vision for a more livable urban environment

Rendering of one of KING Toronto's high-rise towers covered with greenery.
KING Toronto’s undulating shape was designed to embrace biodiversity, maximize views, and allow light to reach the neighboring street all year round. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

In the heart of King Street West, a downtown Toronto neighborhood that’s quickly emerging as a vibrant creative community, a team of architects and developers is creating a new model for city living. The KING Toronto development breaks the mold of the standard high-rise tower: Its 16 stories emerge from a set of heritage red brick buildings, with condominium units stacked like pixels to form a landscape of peaks and valleys.

Combining retail shops, offices, and over 400 residences, KING Toronto features twining vines and gardens spilling from terraces, balconies, and green roofs. Glass bricks add lightness and luminosity to the building’s facade. At the center, a public plaza connects the community and serves as a hub for a network of neighborhood walkways.

Bringing the vision to reality

To bring this vision of urban community to life, KING Toronto developers Westbank and Allied engaged innovative architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to create the design solution for the project. Beginning in 2015, Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA) came on board as executive architect.

DSA is an industry leader in sustainable design, with expertise in dense urban areas. Its company headquarters are based a city block away from the KING Toronto site. “We know the city and we have an intimate relationship with the neighborhood,” says Liviu Budur, DSA’s lead architect for the project. The firm has also been a steward of the Toronto Green Standard, Toronto’s sustainable design requirements for new private and city-owned developments.As executive architect, Budur says, “Our design role was to ensure that the design aligned with site plan and code requirements. Our team translated that into a set of documents for the contractor to build from. We also created documents for the local authorities to sign off on various levels of approvals.”

A nighttime view of KING Toronto highlights the geometric shapes of the building's individual residential units.
Instead of being set square to the city block, the units are rotated at 45-degree angles to increase light exposure and air flow. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

DSA’s work on KING Toronto had to balance design ambition, construction costs, and local market needs. “Obviously, it’s not your typical project. The geometry of the building is quite different, with all these pixelated rotated angles,” Budur says. “Planning approvals are usually based on previous examples and master plans. But this is something that really didn't exist anywhere. Even the city planners didn't know how to deal with it.”

Exploring the options with BIM technologies

Rendering of KING Toronto shows the glass block facade covered with climbing vines.
The glass block facade serves as a signature design element, enhancing the urban environment by drawing light in during the day and illuminating the skyline at night. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

The DSA team used BIM technologies to develop constructable solutions within the budget, exploring different system options for each major category of built fabric: structure; envelope; cladding materials; mechanical, electrical, and information technology systems; and landscape and biophilic elements.

3D models served as the centralized common data environment connecting the team, allowing collaboration and versioning in the cloud. “Revit is the workhorse of the project. Everything else is either a plug-in or ancillary to that,” says Cameron Turvey, Associate Architect with DSA. “This project is all about breaking down the pixelation into tangible construction documentation. We leveraged Revit to unfold the project and then flatten it out, finding different ways to represent that using 3D views, flattened views, and overlay views.”

Blending old and new

Rendering shows the heritage brick buildings at the base of the new KING Toronto development.
Restored red-brick buildings are integrated into the base of KING Toronto’s structure to acknowledge and preserve the neighborhood’s history. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

Another challenging aspect of KING Toronto’s design is incorporating three heritage brick buildings, retaining the architectural history of the neighborhood’s industrial-era past. ERA Architects is the heritage architect for the project, charged with developing a conservation plan and obtaining approvals from the city’s Heritage Planning unit.

“Once the conservation plan was advanced, ERA dovetailed back with us,” Turvey says. “The major concern was that the existing window heights of the archaic buildings are arbitrary relative to the design intent. Two of those buildings retain their slab on grade, and the floor plate levels are entirely independent from the rest of the building.” Revit models enabled the team to capture the offset floor levels of the heritage buildings, develop new floor levels, and accommodate connections with the major services such as gas, air intake, and exhaust fans.

Innovation marries aesthetics with sustainability

Sustainability has been a priority for the KING Toronto project from the beginning, aiming to achieve LEED Gold standards and meet the Toronto Green Standard. But the pixelated design results in a surface area to volume ratio that’s roughly double that of a simple rectangular shape. “We realized early on that the project would need a very high efficiency envelope to meet sustainability goals,” Turvey says.

Another concern was preventing storm water from discharging onto adjacent sites. “We had to introduce a giant subterranean storm water cistern and then find ways to use that water for irrigating the green roofs and planters,” he says.

Rendering of the KING Toronto development with climbing vines, greenery, and gardens.
Trees, gardens, climbing vines, and a public plaza integrate nature into the urban environment. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

Energy models providing real-time feedback on the effects of design decisions were critical to resolving any issues. This information drove the final composition of the building’s facade. “The facade panels consist of three prime components: translucent, transparent, and opaque. Each of those has a different thermal efficiency,” Turvey says. “We had to work with the energy modeler to drive the proportion of each type.”The design and fabrication of KING Toronto’s unique glass-block facade required exhaustive research and innovative thinking. Glass blocks are normally installed the same way as brick masonry: stacked on top of each other and joined with mortar. “They’re more associated with Southern California and climates like that,” says Budur. “The challenge to using them in Toronto was to make them work with our cold winters. We had to turn the way we think about masonry upside down.”

The solution for KING Toronto was to merge the aesthetics of glass blocks with the strength and insulation of a curtain wall system. Individual blocks are joined into bigger panels with silicone joints for flexibility. Those panels are installed in an aluminum frame cladding system engineered to host the weight and thickness of translucent glass blocks, triple-glazed windows, and opaque glass block backed with thermal panels. “The whole thing is prefabricated to facilitate factory assembly and transported to the site,” Turvey says.

Staying on track with remote collaboration

Rendering of a high-rise living and dining room looking out onto a terrace and cityscape view.
Interior view of a residence at KING Toronto. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

Midway into the project, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In March 2020, DSA transitioned 315 employees to home offices across the continent. “We had already introduced a hybrid cloud technology environment that enabled staff to work from anywhere to improve work-life balance,” Turvey says. “When the entire project team decentralized, we remained connected with minimal disruption.”

BIM 360 (now Autodesk BIM Collaborate) serves as a platform for the KING Toronto team to share live changes with the architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical consultants. “There’s no lag to our coordination between teams, so we can update in real time and see what the consequences are,” Turvey says. This expedited changes to the facade panels, structural frame, and services distribution without having to exchange separate models or markups.

KING Toronto construction underway

Aerial view of the KING Toronto construction site.
A view of construction on the underground levels of KING Toronto in 2022, with the heritage brick facades on the street front awaiting restoration and integration with the new building. Image by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank.

Excavation on the KING Toronto project began in mid-2021, with construction underway in 2022 and development scheduled to be complete in 2024. The project has met the Toronto Green Standard Tier 1, thanks to the high-efficiency envelope developed with the energy model, and is tracking towards LEED Gold standards. As construction proceeds, the BIM models created with Revit serve as the central source of truth for the project. “When we saw the initial design we knew it would become a local landmark, but there would be many challenges. We could never have anticipated the innovative solutions developed along the way,” Budur says. Using BIM, “we found ways to take the most ambitious ideas and make them grounded in the reality of construction."